20/04/2018 06:37 SAST | Updated 20/04/2018 08:29 SAST

One Left Dead As North West Protests Escalate

Protests in the North West show no signs of abating.

Supra Mahumapelo.
City Press
Supra Mahumapelo.

Violence in Mahikeng has claimed its first victim - a man was killed on Thursday evening while fleeing from the police. President Cyril Ramaphosa is reportedly on his way home from the UK to deal with the situation, as violent protests over North West premier Supra Mahumapelo show no signs of abating.

The Mail & Guardian's health journalism outfit, Bhekisisa, reported that the protests began over a month ago, with nurses and health workers embarking on a go-slow over salaries and contracts. This followed revelations about a contract awarded to Gupta-linked Mediosa for the provision of mobile clinics in the area. About R30-million was awarded to the company before any mobile clinics were delivered.

But tension in the area appears to have kicked into high gear when Sunday newspaper Rapport revealed last week that Mahumapelo's son received a R1-million bursary from Denel to study to become a pilot without due processes being followed. Denel denied that there were irregularities in the awarding of the bursary and Mahumapelo reportedly said his son was awarded the bursary on merit, according to ANN7.

On Tuesday, the EFF planned a motion of no confidence vote against Mahumapelo, which was postponed, according to Daily Maverick. The protesters now want North West premier Supra Mahumapelo to resign.

At just after 6am on Wednesday morning, police confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that Mahikeng residents had taken to the streets. Vehicles were reportedly burned and young people were seen throwing stones and blocking roads. Public order policing units were deployed.

According to TimesLive, looting and rioting continued throughout Wednesday night.

Eight people were arrested during the course of Wednesday night, according to News24. This followed the looting of tuck shops. Police reportedly said it was unclear what the unrest was about as there were many rumours circulating, and reports emerged that security had been beefed up around Mahumapelo's house.

Schools, hospitals and businesses are now closed in Mahikeng. Police reportedly shot rubber bullets at protesters on Thursday as roads were barricaded and businesses were looted. A police nyala was also petrol bombed, according to reports.

The border between Mahikeng and Botswana has also reportedly been closed.

According to Bhekisisa, health facilities in Mahikeng have been shut down, and families with patients who are bedridden were told to collect them on Thursday. Hospitals have reportedly been operating with skeleton staff since nurses went on a go-slow a month ago.

About 400 hospitals and clinics in the area are now reportedly operating with dangerously low levels of stock, and the entrances to hospitals have been blocked. Doctors were told not to come to work and an emergency room at one hospital had to be shut down after the facility was stoned.

Residents told EWN that they are angry about Mahumapelo's son studying to become a pilot on a R1-million Denel bursary, unemployment, and a lack of development in the province.

In a statement on Thursday night, Ramaphosa reportedly called for calm and for the rule of law to be adhered to. According to IOL, the statement said:

"President Ramaphosa has called for calm and adherence to the rule of law in the province and has called on all aggrieved parties to express their grievances through peaceful means and engagement rather than violence and anarchy. The president has also called on law-enforcement agencies to exercise maximum restraint in [the] execution of their duties to return calm and normality to the province," the Presidency said.

"To pay attention to the situation in the North West, the president has decided to cut short his participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London where he is leading a government delegation."

According to TimesLive, a man, believed to be one of the protestors, was killed following a car chase between police and protesters on Thursday evening. The police said they had nothing to do with the death.

A police spokesperson, Adele Myburgh, told TimesLive that the protester died in a "motor car accident in the Quantum they were driving in". She reportedly said police were trying to chase protesters away from the barricades they were building. Three people were injured.

According to an eNCA reporter, it later emerged that the protester was part of a group who looted a shop. The protester was reportedly fleeing the scene when his Quantum hit a pole. At least 16 people were reportedly arrested.

Residents reportedly set fire to a truck, and earlier, a trailer was reportedly partially burnt. According to IOL, another trailer was overturned and its tyres were used to block Nelson Mandela Drive which links Mahikeng and Botswana.

The ANC is sending a delegation to accompany Ramaphosa, according to IOL. The delegation includes ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, as well as other ANC national executive members. An urgent meeting of the party, its leagues, alliance members and caucus will reportedly be addressed by Ramaphosa on Friday.

Earlier in the day, there were rumours that the SANDF had been deployed to the area. However, it later emerged that this was not the case, and that soldiers were merely manning the gates to the base which is on the road to Botswana.

While he has never been formally charged, allegations of corruption have followed Mahumapelo for years. According to City Press, the Hawks recently raided his offices in relation to an investigation into a multi-million-rand IT contract.

The Young Communist League (YCL) blew the whistle in the January, when Lekalaka was allegedly parachuted into the health department, allegedly to rubber stamp tenders, the Sowetan reported at the time.

After reports emerged about the Mediosa tender, alliance partner the SACP was among those who called for Mahumapelo's removal, according to IOL.